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Nick Brandt is famous for his images of East African wildlife. He has produced a large collection of work which represents a powerful expression of the beauty and grandeur of the animal kingdom in this part of the world.
His images are very different from the action packed shots of most other wildlife photographers. He is interested in portraying a subtler vision of the life and character of the creatures he photographs. His work is also shaped by a fear that many of his subjects will not be around to see for much longer.
Nick Brandt was born in 1966 and grew up in London. He was always interested in the arts and went on to study both painting and film at St. Martins School of Art. But it was film that became the focus of his early career when, in 1992, he moved to the USA to work in the music industry.
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He was soon directing videos for well known artists like Moby, Badly Drawn Boy and even Michael Jackson. In fact, it was whilst working with Michael Jackson that Brandt's passion for wildlife was sparked.
He was directing the video for "Earth Song" - surely one of the most famous music videos ever made - when he first encountered the array of stunning wildlife surrounding him on location in Tanzania.
He pretty quickly decided that he wanted to express his reaction to these amazing animals, and gradually settled on the medium of photography to do so.
By 2000, Nick Brandt had set himself the task of producing a series of three books, chronicling the diverse wildlife of East Africa and their various habitats. These publications were to progress along a trajectory giving increasing thematic weight to the precarious subsistence of animals living in a world shaped by human activity.
The first book, On This Earth, evokes an idyllic Africa: beautiful animals living undisturbed in an epic wilderness. Everything from lions and elephants to giraffes and chimpanzees are depicted as dignified, almost serene, creatures living in the environment they belong.
Something that marks Nick Brandt's photos out from those of other wildlife photographers is his exclusive use of a black and white format. He is not concerned with producing a factual record. Nor does he chase after moments of high drama and excitement.
Instead, Brandt's approach is to represent African wildlife just as it is. He seems to capture animals in a way that lends them a timeless, even symbolic quality. It's like they are - or should be - an immovable part of the earth, like a geological feature.
Brandt's conviction is that all living things have an equal right to exist and this comes across strongly in his work. The animals seem inherently valuable and compelling, not merely insofar as they hunt, mate or eat.
The second book of his trilogy is titled A Shadow Falls and, as the title suggests, explores a darker theme to life in African paradise. It begins with photographs very similar to those in On This Earth, but they soon give way to shots that hint towards tragedy. Water runs low in river beds and large migrations of animals cross bleak, dusty landscapes.
There is an unsettling feel. Lions, cheetahs and gorillas, still grand and dignified, scan their surroundings as though something is different and worrying changes are afoot. Nick Brandt, astonishingly, uses no telephoto lenses. This gives him the opportunity to really connect the wildlife with the landscape through a wider angle of view.
It also brings real intimacy to close up shots, which require him to actually be physically close to the subjects. A front on, portrait style image of an elephant drinking from a low running river is a poignant example of this.
A Shadow Falls contains a number of portrait shots, notably of buffalo, that have been processed to appear printed on old rotting paper. This warns of a time when they will be a thing of the past. It's a particularly moving technique in the context of the other images, which connect the animals with a sense of timelessness and historical scale.
The final photograph in the book is a large, abandoned ostrich egg that sits on cracked, arid terrain stretching uninterrupted to the horizon. It's the future, but doesn't hold much promise.
Nick Brandt plans to publish the final book of his trilogy in 2013. His work has already become a well known and important symbol of the plight of wildlife in Africa. He is increasingly seen as a significant figure in the history of photography, and his prints have sold for up to $85,000.
If you are interested in wildlife photography and the natural world, National Geographic is a real treat!
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